Is the Catholic Church Against Science?

No, of course not.

The common misconception today is that religion and science are naturally opposed to each other.

This idea originates from the anti-faith bias of the Enlightenment period in the 17th and 18th centuries, when many came to believe man could discover the truth through the scientific method alone. People came to trust only what their eyes could see in the natural world; and to deny the existence of the supernatural, because it could not be proven in a laboratory. In reality, though, because both faith and science involve the pursuit of truth—and because logically there can be only one truth—faith and science are necessarily destined to meet, and when applied properly, both depend upon reason.

Far from being the enemy of science she is sometimes portrayed, the Catholic Church has been its truest patroness. Because of her accomplishments in astronomy, for instance, 35 craters on the moon have been named in honor of Catholic priests (Thomas E. Woods, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, Regnery, 2005, p. 4). Many scientific pioneers, in fact, such as Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, and Father Georges-Henri Lemaître, the father of the Big Bang theory, were Catholics.

Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus was, too. In 1543 he published On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, in which he presented the theory of heliocentrism: that the sun and not the earth (as previously thought) was the center of the solar system.

It may well surprise those familiar with the later Galileo affair to learn that Copernicus’ research was fully supported by the Church, to the extent that he dedicated On the Revolutions to Pope Paul III. Moreover, Galileo initially enjoyed the Church’s favor as well. Unlike Copernicus, though, he committed two crucial errors: one an error of science, the other of religion.

His scientific error involved his reckless promotion of heliocentrism as truth, not theory, in spite of the fact that the empirical evidence for it at the time was lacking. His religious error was his assertion that his findings undermined the truth of Sacred Scripture. Though it is commonly assumed the Church reprimanded Galileo for fear science might trump religion, in reality her censure of him upheld the integrity of both.

The Middle Ages have been called “dark” from the notion they represent a dearth in learning. In fact, though, the university system was created during the Middle Ages, from monastic centers for learning—from the Church, that is. In the Catholic way of thinking, faith and reason go together. This flows from the Church’s belief that man, being both body and spirit, has the God-given capacity to reason and to believe, to know and to love. Hence, while the Church gives a certain priority to revealed religious truth, she also maintains that the truth may be discovered by use of the human intellect. One can know that a Divine Designer, if you will, exists by observing the intricate precision of earth’s ecosystem, the amazing diversity of species, or the beauty of a sunset.

Our belief in Creation, furthermore, does not prohibit us from accepting certain elements of the various theories of Evolution, so long as we do not deny established truths of the faith: namely, the existence of a Creator, who made us uniquely in His image and likeness, and not from some brute animal.

Evolution, of course, is limited in that, at best, it can only say what happened after life had already come, but cannot say how it came. Considering the evidence of the natural world, even prominent atheistic biologists, such as Richard Dawkins, have had to admit the likelihood of a higher intelligence. Unwilling to call this intelligence “God,” however, Dawkins and others have gone so far as to suggest earthly life was seeded by aliens, essentially reducing our existence to an experiment in a Petri dish. (Who created the “aliens,” they do not say.)

The Church, on the other hand, sees the whole human person—body as well as spirit—and proclaims the dignity of both.